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Can Ginger Cure Rheumatoid Arthritis?

November 4th, 2014

by R. Brandon Kime, PharmD Candidate

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that causes the breakdown of joints throughout the body due to the body’s immune system attacking these tissues. As the joints degrade, they become less able to support and lubricate the bones that they attach. Eventually, the bones can rub together, causing erosion of the bone and possibly deformity of the joint. This entire process results in a considerable amount pain for those affected, as well as difficulties in day-to-day functioning. Unlike other types of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis can occur in people of all ages. Rheumatoid arthritis is usually treated by prescription drugs that decrease inflammation or decrease immune system activity. Some of these drugs may have significant side effects, including increased chance for infection for those that suppress the immune system, or increased chance for ulcers and bleeding for anti-inflammatory drugs. Physical therapy may also be used to increase joint flexibility and decrease stress and degradation of the joints. One European study estimated the total cost of rheumatoid arthritis in the US as 42 billion euros,1 or over 53 billion dollars.

Plants have been used since ancient times for medicinal purposes,2 and traditional medicine is growing acceptance in developed countries.3  An article written by Al-Nahain and colleagues evaluated the potential of the ginger plant (Zingiber officinale) in treating rheumatoid arthritis.4 The root of the ginger plant is most often used in food because of its unique taste, but it also has several medicinal properties that have been observed. Ginger has been well-studied for its anti-inflammatory effects (it is similar in action to aspirin or ibuprofen).5,6 The plant contains many drug-like compounds that may be useful in either treating rheumatoid arthritis outright or developing new anti-inflammatory drugs.2 One study tested both ginger extract as well as several chemicals isolated from ginger in an animal model of rheumatoid arthritis and found ginger to have “profound antiarthritic efficacy.”7 This means that ginger is capable of treating arthritis on multiple levels. While ginger may have potential in treating arthritis, it would not be without disadvantages. There is a lack of precise dosing information for this application of ginger. Furthermore, since it is considered a dietary supplement insurance companies would be unlikely to cover it.

While “cure” is far too strong of a word at this time, what does all this mean for those struggling with rheumatoid arthritis? First, it gives them a potential option when standard therapies do not work well enough to treat their symptoms. Individuals suffering from the disease can talk to their doctors and discuss whether using or adding a ginger supplement to their regimen could be beneficial in treating their symptoms. Second, it gives them hope for future research to find more effective treatments for rheumatoid arthritis. The Al-Nahain article is optimistic that further research into the chemical functions of ginger components, “may make it possible to stop further progress or even reverse the damage caused by [rheumatoid arthritis].”2 Finally, if new research into ginger prompts further research into the benefits of other substances marketed as dietary supplements, I think that is good for the world of healthcare as a whole. Selecting healthcare products should be based on evidence rather than advertising. I would recommend that consumers become proactive in discovering the benefits of both mainstream and alternative treatments. In this way, consumers can make more informed decisions and progress can be made in treating various diseases.

Has anyone you have known taken a ginger supplement for their rheumatoid arthritis? How well did his or her treatment work?

References

  1. Lundkvist J, Kastäng F, Kobelt G. The burden of rheumatoid arthritis and access to treatment: Health burden and costs. The European Journal of Health Economics. 2008;8(, Supplement 2: The Burden of Rheumatoid Arthritis and Patient Access to Treatment):S49-S60.
  2. Phillipson JD. Phytochemistry and medicinal plants. Phytochemistry. 2001;56(3):237-243.
  3. World Health Organization. WHO traditional medicine strategy 2002-2005. 2002.
  4. Al-Nahain A, Jahan R, Rahmatullah M. Zingiber officinale: A potential plant against rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis. 2014;2014:8.
  5. Grzanna R, Lindmark L, Frondoza CG. Ginger-an herbal medicinal product with broad anti-inflammatory actions. Journal of medicinal food. 2005;8(2):125-132.
  6. Mascolo N, Jain R, Jain SC, Capasso F. Ethnopharmacologic investigation of ginger (zingiber officinale). J Ethnopharmacol. 1989;27(1–2):129-140.
  7. Funk JL, Frye JB, Oyarzo JN, Timmermann BN. Comparative effects of two gingerol-containing zingiber officinale extracts on experimental rheumatoid arthritis⊥. J Nat Prod. 2009;72(3):403-407.

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4 Responses to “Can Ginger Cure Rheumatoid Arthritis?”

  1. Samantha A Smolinski Says:

    Brandon,

    I think that this idea is very interesting and I look forward to reading more about this emerging therapy. I did not realize that ginger had more beneficial effects than just seasoning for food. Hopefully, people continue to research this plant to determine its other potential health benefits. I think that this might be a great therapy for patients with rheumatoid arthritis since many are fighting with the condition through the use of NSAIDs and this alternative therapy may be beneficial to them long term. This is definitely something to continue research in.

  2. Courtney Noll Says:

    I think you did a great job writing this article! I found it very easy to follow and understand. I had no idea that ginger had additional uses aside from being used in food. I grew up in an area where the only seasonings or extras that we would put in our food is butter and salt, so ginger in general is new to me, as well as using it for healthcare purposes. I think this is a great find in research and can potentially very inexpensive for patients. I’m hoping that the research continues so that individuals with this disease do not have to rely on NSAIDs on a daily basis! You had mentioned that several of the drugs used to treat this disease will decrease the immune system of certain patients. If there is a chance that ginger will decrease the likelihood of patients needing to do that, I think there should be a great effort put toward the further development of ginger as treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.

  3. Scarlet Lau Says:

    Growing up with ginger being used only when cooking, I had no idea that it could be as effective as NSAIDs or Aspirin or have medicinal value in treating rheumatoid arthritis. I agree with you in that patients should not rely on the use of ginger until research has shown it to be effective. After learning about the adverse effects of ginger in self-care class, such as heartburn, belching, arthritis, increased hypoglycemia and altered platelet function, I would not recommend this to patients. I know that ginger comes in many dosage forms, such as powder, oil, capsules, teas, and so on. Would you recommend a specific form of ginger to take?

  4. Samuel Tesfaye Says:

    Brandon your blog is pretty interesting.My dad was recently diagnosed with Arthritis and his doctor recommended that he used ginger.I didn’t know the medicinal use of ginger until my dad asked me a few weeks ago about it.I know can tell him that there is enough evidence to back up the claim that ginger is used as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.Thank you for this valuable information.

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